Everton V Burnley at Goodison Park : Match Preview

14 April 2017

Koeman urges Everton to finish campaign strongly to avoid early start next term

Everton manager Ronald Koeman is preparing himself for an early return to competitive action in the Europa League next season but challenged his players to change their destiny.

Seventh place, and therefore Europa League qualification by virtue of the fact both cup competitions will be won by top-six sides, is virtually already guaranteed for the Toffees.

Everton lead West Brom, in eighth, by 10 points, which is a more than comfortable cushion with six matches to go.

Should things stay that way then Koeman's side will be thrust into early Europa League qualifiers in late July.

However, he has not ruled out overtaking Arsenal, with whom they are level on points having played two fewer matches, or even fifth-placed Manchester United, three points ahead with two games in hand, to give themselves a longer pre-season.

"It will be difficult but if we finish fifth or six it will be perfect because then you don't play any pre-qualification games for the Europa League," said the Dutchman, whose side are looking for a Premier League-era record of eight successive home wins when Burnley visit on Saturday.

"We would like to play in Europe, even if we have to play qualification games in the summer.

"It does not change the date to start our pre-season, it means we will have some early competitive games.

"I have that experience (of going through the qualifiers) with Southampton.

"It's not easy but we want to be in Europe and to do that, if we finish seventh in the league, we need to play qualifiers in the last week of July."

On paper Burnley do not look much of a threat to Everton's impressive home league form, which has seen them lose just once at Goodison (the Merseyside derby in December) in the last 13 months.

The Clarets have yet to win on the road this season with four draws a measly return from 16 matches.

But having lost 2-1 to a 90th-minute goal at Turf Moor in October Koeman is taking nothing for granted.

"Their home form brought a lot of points. Away it is more difficult but it is not easy to beat them," he added.

"Every time they don't win (away from home) it comes closer to them getting a win.

"If that is two or three weeks then that is okay, just not this weekend.

"They are physically strong in a typical English 4-4-2 system, good defending and organisation, strong at set-plays and it will be tough to create chances.

"But the form we are showing at home means it will be difficult for them as well."

Everton defender Ashley Williams returns from suspension for the visit of the Clarets.

Midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin suffered no after-effects following his first start in three matches last weekend after an ankle problem so is likely to retain his place.

Ramiro Funes Mori and Yannick Bolasie (both knee), James McCarthy (hamstring), Seamus Coleman (broken leg) and Aaron Lennon are all missing but midfielder Muhamed Besic came through 45 minutes with the Under-23s in midweek as he builds up his fitness after a knee operation on the eve of the season.

Meanwhile, Burnley boss Sean Dyche believes Michael Keane's name sits comfortably alongside the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Romelu Lukaku in Premier League awards season.

Keane is one of six candidates nominated for the Professional Footballers' Association young player of the year gong and is the only outfield player outside the current top seven to earn a nod on either that or the senior shortlist.

The Manchester United graduate joins Sunderland's fire-fighting goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in battling previous winners Kane and Alli, as well as Lukaku and Leroy Sane, for the honour Dyche feels the recognition is well earned.

"It's a great sign for him and he deserves to be in that company," said Dyche, who has been instrumental in developing Keane from prospect to consistent contributor and England international.

"We're not shining lights of the Premier League or a superpower, so for other players to see that and say 'hang on a minute, he's been terrific in a smaller side at a smaller club' is good, it's good of his peers to recognise that.

"He's in some very good company, some players who are having absolutely fine seasons, and he's having a very strong season too."

Burnley welcome back midfielder Steven Defour at Goodison Park.

Defour injured his thigh in the win over Stoke earlier this month but is ready to return to the squad.